Top-flight football has been played in China for the past 60 years, but only in the last 15 years has it started to take off, especially when it comes to players wages. The Chinese Super League can now contend with top European leagues when it comes to salaries. The big money contracts have attracted top footballers from all over the world.
It was the creation of the Chinese Super League that started the footballing revolution in the country. Since 2014, the average attendance increased from just over 10,000 in 2004 to 24,000+ in 2018. The Chinese Super League first season featured 12 teams; this has grown to 16 clubs today.
What Has Driven Wages Higher in the Chinese Super League?
The considerable growth in the League can be traced back to 2004 and a re-branding of the game. The Chinese Government targeted qualification for the World Cup and backed the Super League to deliver a cohort of players to get the country to the World Cup Finals.
Although the League has successfully developed home-grown talent, it also attracted foreign players looking for a big payday. The statistic below shows a ranking of football players in the Chinese Super League based on weekly salary (2020). The figures are eye-watering, but it’s difficult to critique players with incredibly short careers from maximising their earning potential. Oscar was the highest-paid player in the Chinese Super League in 2020 with a weekly salary of 450,000 euros.
Let’s look at football players who earned big money in 2020.
Oscar (Shanghai SIPG)
Wage – €450,000
It was a surprise when Oscar moved to the Chinese Super League from Chelsea in 2017. He was one of the first players to leave for a European league during the prime of his career.
Alongside his staggering wages, Oscar’s time at Shanghai SIPG has been a success. He won the Chinese Super League in 2018 and the Chinese Fa Super Cup in 2019. This video contains a selection of his goals from the 2020 season.
Bakambu (Beijing Guoan)
Wage – €375,000
Bakambu had spent time in France, Turkey, and Spain before his move to Beijing. He’s had a clear impact on his new club and has gone on to score 40 times over three seasons. Has he represented good value for money?
Hulk (Shanghai SIPG)
Wage – €320,000
Before moving to Shanghai, Hulk had spells with Porto and Zenit St Petersburg. He managed 77 goals in 145 appearances during his time at Shanghai SIPG. He has since returned to Brazil and is playing for Atlético Mineiro.
Grazianno Pelle (Shandong Luneng)
Wage – €290,000
Pelle had a decent spell at Southampton before he moved to China to play for Shandong Luneng. During his time in the Chinese Super League, he scored 63 goals in 133 appearances in all competitions, which is more than respectable. In February 2021, Pelle returned to a former club in Parma who play in Serie A.
Stephan El Shaarawy (Shanghai Shenhua)
Wage – €290,000
The Italian is now back in Serie A after two years in Shanghai, where he played 16 league games over two seasons. Despite his lack of appearances, El Shaarawy did have some success playing for Shenhua. In 2019, his side won the Chinese FA Cup.
Paulinho (Guangzhou Evergrande)
Wage – €270,000
The former Barcelona and Tottenham midfielder is now in his second spell with Guangzhou. He has won major honours all over the world, including the La Liga with Barca. His time at Guangzhou has been a success; he’s gone onto win the Super League on three occasions and the Chinese FA Cup once. The highlight of his time so far was winning the AFC Champions League in 2015.
Eder (Jiangsu Suning)
Wage – €250,000
Eder is another Brazillian that had enjoyed a relatively successful spell in the Chinese Super League. During his time, he scored 32 goals in 62 appearances and won the League in 2020. However, his time in China ended in controversy and disappointment. Not long after winning the League, Jiangsu had ceased their entire operation with immediate effect. He’s now playing for Sao Paulo, back in Brazil, but we’re sure he will fondly look back at his time in China. The video below contains his goals from the 2018 season.
Marouane Fellaini (Shandong Luneng)
Wage – €240,000
Marouane Fellaini is another former Premier League player that is enjoying a spell in China. During his time at Old Trafford, he won the FA Cup, the League Cup, and a Europa League. He was a key player for Jose Mourinho but was less fancied by his replacement Ole Solskjaer. Since signing from Manchester United in 2019, he has scored 21 goals in 57 appearances. His side also won the Chinese FA Cup in 2020. He started on a huge high by scoring a late winner for his side to give Shandong a 1-0 win.
Marko Arnautović (SIPG)
Wage – €230,000
The former Stoke City and West Ham forward scored 17 goals in 35 appearances since moving to the League. The form that made him so highly rated by Stoke and West Ham fans. As you can see above, he has played with Oscar and Hulk.
Alex Teixeira (Jiangsu Suning)
Wage – €210,000
Another player with an uncertain future due to the collapse of his former club. He represented excellent value for money, scoring 72 goals in 150 appearances and playing an essential role in their title win of 2020.
What’s The Future For Super League?
The wages paid by Chinese clubs for players who many fans suspect are past their best have started a discussion about the League’s future, Especially following Jiangsu’s collapse. A Guardian article from March 2021 pointed out the Chinese Football Association wants to remove the over-reliance on substantial cash injections from businesses and individuals. It wants clubs to become more sustainable and professional.
Could this mean clubs start to focus on developing their youth academies?